Rutgers continues chase for first Big Ten conference win after 7-0 loss to Maryland

<p>Senior Gina Li was involved in the most intense match of the day, suffering a heartbreaking 6-4, 4-6, 10-7 loss in singles.</p>

Senior Gina Li was involved in the most intense match of the day, suffering a heartbreaking 6-4, 4-6, 10-7 loss in singles.

The Rutgers tennis team fought, scratched and clawed throughout its match against Maryland at the East Brunswick Racquet Club, but the effort ultimately fell short.

After such a promising start to the season, the Scarlet Knights failed to secure the elusive first Big Ten win as they slipped to 4-3 overall after a loss to the Terrapins.

Despite the lopsided scoreline, which read 7-0 in favor of Maryland, the Knights were in position to win some battles several times and almost every point between the two squads was competitive.

All three of Rutgers' doubles teams lost extremely close sets, all going down 6-4 against their respective opponents.

Preceding the match, the Knights had captured the doubles point and had gone into singles play with the advantage in an impressive five matches out of matches.

Unfortunately, Rutgers didn’t continue that success Sunday, but it has plenty to build off of.

Seniors Gina Li and Lindsey Kayati as well as junior Ksenija Tihomirova all learned from their doubles losses enough to bounce back and win a set each in singles action, but still couldn’t quite fully triumph in their individual matchups.

In the ace position playing against Maryland’s Arnelle Sullivan, Li lost the first set 6-4, but countered in the second with a win of the same score.

In the third and deciding clash, Li was defeated in a heartbreaker, 10-7.

“The score doesn’t accurately represent the match’s competitive nature,” Li said. “I thought we proved we’re a much better team than we were last year.”

While Li showed great resiliency to persevere and recover from behind during her match, Tihomirova broke the routine of the day and became the first Rutgers player to win her initial set with a 6-3 victory.

However, in spite of a grand display of determination, the Latvia native subsequently squandered the potential bright spot for the Knights by sinking in her last two singles sets.

Kayati suffered the same fate in a nearly identical fashion, dropping the second and third sets, 7-5 and 10-4, after earning a temporary lead via a 6-3 opening round victory of her own.

Sophomore Chloe Lee, who with Tihomirova barely lost in doubles and then got beaten in straight sets in singles, watched her teammates give their all and get nothing to show for it.

“We were within an arm’s grasp of winning a bunch of times, so it hurts,” Lee said. “But we can also use this sour feeling as motivation for the future.”

The team entered the match riding on an air of confidence and a three match-winning streak, but their heroic attempt to vanquish the perennially ranked Terrapins proved insufficient.

Even after almost overcoming Maryland’s force and being humbled on the court in the process Sunday, Rutgers still remains optimistic.

Head coach Benjamin Bucca said that with more experience at this level, the team will grow stronger over time.

“In all my years of coaching, I’ve seen that familiarity promotes parity,” Bucca said. “The more we play these powerhouse opponents, the more constant and consistent improvement I see from the team.”

The Knights have a long way to go in their season, with 11 matches remaining on their Big Ten schedule and 15 overall.

Sunday’s defeat was a tough pill to swallow for Rutgers, but there are plenty of opportunities to claim that essentially important first conference victory.

The Knights recognize they have their reputation on the line and will need to keep focused on the challenging road ahead.

Rutgers faces Northwestern at home on Friday at the East Brunswick Racquet Club at 12:30 p.m. and the search for Big Ten win number one continues.

“You have to move on from each match pretty immediately,” Lee said. “We have 11 more to go, so we’ve got to flip a switch and start preparing for the next one.”

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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